The use of visual content continues to increase, but what many people don’t know is why the brain likes visual content more than a descriptive sentence.
For several years, the popularity of videos and pictures has surged, even on Facebook and Twitter, which were not originally created as visual platforms. But why is visual content so popular? After all, popular, award-winning novels that contain no pictures still keep readers riveted to the page with descriptive details that evoke compelling images.
It’s easier for the brain to process pictures, because a large part of the outer layer of the brain is devoted to visual processing, much more than it is devoted to information you hear or read. Pictures activate more areas of the brain than sentences do. A viewer can see distance, depth, and the positioning of people and objects. And video is the most engaging, because a single picture can’t depict how the relationship between the people and objects in the picture change over time.
Barbara Tversky, a psychologist at Stanford told me in an email that many things are difficult to describe in writing, such as fleeting eye movements and body postures that suggest joy, aggression, or fear. “We have rich experiences in life from instantaneously picking up people’s facial and body expressions and gestures,” she said. Similarly, clothing speaks volumes about social class, economic status, age, and historical era. “Describing those takes agonizing sentences,” she said.
Panning landscapes and cutting from one scene to another enable the viewer to see connections, compare, study, and ponder, providing a richer experience.
Read more about the biological factors behind the popularity of visual content in Gerald Kane’s article from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Ken O’Quinn conducts writing and managerial communication workshops for corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.